With Eastern Kentucky University students back on campus, an upcoming holiday and the steady rise in local COVID-19 case numbers, EKU and the Madison County Health Department announced a partnership this week in reporting and tracking case numbers.
MCHD and EKU are working closely together to track, verify and report COVID-19 case information for the community through the use of different platforms.
"From the very beginning of the pandemic, a lot of us in the community met together to discuss what we could do to help Madison County. We realized quickly, that in order to fight the virus, we were going to have to work together," MCHD Public Information Officer Kelley McBride said.
As the largest higher education learning institutions in the county, EKU Chief External Affairs Officer Kristi Middleton said it made sense for the university to work hand-in-hand with the health department.
"With us having such a big population with students, faculty and staff; the partnership just makes sense. We wanted to do our part in the community and help support the work of the health department in keeping our community healthy and safe… We have a long history of partnering with the health department through various programs and we wanted to again during the pandemic," Middleton explained.
Both entities will continue to report cases and share information on their own platforms, but Anne Hatton, the clinic nurse administrator at Madison County Health Department, said the two institutions are working closely together to share and verify case information to ensure accurate numbers.
As part of the Colonels Comeback plan, EKU launched its own dashboard at https://staywell.eku.edu/dashboard and put together a team of dedicated EKU contact tracers on campus.
The dashboard outlines the total number of residential students, non-residential students, employees and others who have self-reported positive and/or presumed positive results to the university. This also includes cases where a health department or healthcare provider has notified the university of positive cases.
According to Middleton, because the university will continue to report and track cases from all faculty, staff and students, the numbers that EKU reports may vary from the health department.
EKU counts every person (student, faculty, staff member, and other affiliated individuals) associated with the university regardless of their recovery location. MCHD does not count a student who is recovering at home in a different county.
"If a student tests positive or negative, we will report those numbers no matter if they commute to school from Fayette County. If they have contact with EKU campus, then we will be reporting them to our dashboard. The health department will only be reporting cases in Madison County," Middleton explained.
Cases from Model Laboratory School will also be counted separately due to the nature of operating as a K-12 school district.
"Our goal is to be transparent and give our communities a sense of what we are experiencing so that everyone can make informed decisions about their personal safety," said EKU Executive Director of Public Safety and Risk Management Dr. Bryan Makinen.
McBride said the partnership with EKU is essential to the health department to make sure cases are reported in a timely and accurate manner.
"We are responsible with keeping up with the numbers and getting that information out to the public. It's important for all local organizations to work together. We all have to work together as much as possible to keep everyone healthy and safe. We all live here and want the best for our community," McBride said. "With EKU, it is an essential partnership."
MCHD provides a COVID-19 case count each weekday via social media platforms. Information provided includes new cases as of the close of business on the previous day, total cases, the cases currently hospitalized, the cases recovering at home, the total number of deaths, and the total number of cases who have recovered.
MCHD tracks cases by individual name, not by the number of tests. Multiple tests for a single individual are counted as a single case.
Middleton said most students, faculty and staff at EKU have been open with reporting positive and asymptomatic cases as well as testing.
However, both the MCHD and EKU said there will be lags in the numbers as they have to collaborate and verify cases.
"Our dashboard is updated several times a week, but we do have up to a two-day lag because we work with the health department to verify every report and test result," Middleton said.
Hatton said the health department contract tracers work very hard each day to contact those that have been potentially exposed, however sometimes that may be upwards of 30 people.
Hatton said she hopes the community continues to take personal responsibility for keeping the community safe, especially with the university back to in-person learning and the Labor Day holiday.
"Right after the Fourth of July weekend, is when you can see the uptick in cases in the stats. People don't need to isolate, they can still have fun, but they need to be responsible and follow the mandates," Hatton said.
The health department announced Madison County's fourth COVID-19 related death on Friday.